Much Ado about Nothing – Review
IT has been said that Shakespeare is timeless. Certainly his plays have interesting plots and characters that continue to entertain today’s audiences, and the language is layered in a way that undeniably appeals to a variety of demographics. Many of the stories have political or social elements that have remained relevant throughout history. That being said, anytime a theatre company puts Shakespeare into another time period they run a risk. It’s a delicate balance between telling a relevant story in a new way and getting caught up in a gimmick.
Arclight Repertory has chosen to put one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies, Much Ado about Nothing, in the California mission era (Specifically Mission San Jose, 1844.) They have masterfully adapted the text ever-so-slightly (a city name here, a bit of Spanish there) to fit their location and time period and in my opinion they land on the side of relevance and entertainment in that respect.
There were a few moments of confusion as I had to adjust my own frame of reference when hearing “San Jose” and resist flinching at the modern sound of it but, once I got over it (helped along by great costuming, props, and other technical elements) I easily accepted their choice.
Things I loved.
For the most part the cast was pleasant and skilled. The certainly had the comedy down and Hero, Beatrice and the father were surprisingly moving when the drama came to call. The use of slight, live, guitar scoring was both thematically appropriate and well-played. I also enjoyed the use of the whole space and although a bit suspect at first, I actually think the setting was consistent in its adaptation and ultimately while may not have added, certainly didn’t detract. This play, on its own merits, is also one of my top three Shakespeare plays, and although I hold the Kenneth Branagh film as the top, it’s hard in my opinion to mess this play up; it’s quite enjoyable and easy to follow, even if you weren’t a double English and Drama major.
There were a few actors that had a real challenge with volume. You just CAN’T lose any of this play due to volume. You might not comprehend every phrase, true, but you have to hear it. Nothing kills comedy faster. This may have been due to a larger audience in this intimate space (which can quite deceptively absorb the sound) or it may have been due to sick actors, I’m not sure, but I’d suggest sitting up front if you don’t want to potentially deal with this frustration (if by off-chance they don’t remedy it themselves.) There were some overly melodramatic moments I thought with the villain, and I didn’t personally agree with some of the breaking of the fourth wall, particularly with the monologues, (I would have like to see more self-reflection than playing to the audience), but those were relatively minor criticisms for me. Overall the plusses outweighed the minuses for me.
I like Arclight’s work. I value their mission. I applaud their talent. I think this is a great play, a fair adaptation, and I give this 3 ½ jewels in the tiara out of 5. Much Ado About Nothing plays through June 4th at the Theatre on San Pedro Square in San Jose.